Despite the devilish wind on Saturday morning, plenty of vendors still showed up to the Union Station Farmers' Market, albeit without awnings. With just one week to go in the season, the availability of produce has dwindled, but chef Christian Graves of Citizen Rail, a new eatery just around the corner, was on track to shop for a splendid meal of local fresh foods. In fact, he whipped up three fantastic plates showcasing the bounty of the farms along with the dry-aged beef the restaurant is known for. And if given the opportunity, he could have easily done twice as many dishes.
"I cook on mood and feeling," the chef says. "And, as it's brisk this morning, that will probably have a lot to do with it."
Graves didn't come to the market with set ideas for what he would make, but after a tour around the stalls, he had developed a whole menu of tasty, market-driven meals. At Native Horns Dairy out of Larkspur we got some sweet and mellow goat cheese, which, the owner says, will be sold at Il Porcellino Salumi (4324 West 41st Street) after the market ends. We picked up a bunch of broccoli rabe from Boulder's Cure Organic Farm and an equally bright bag of baby mixed greens and carton of "ugly" cherry tomatoes from Micro Farms, a collection of suburban plots.
"I think the ugly ones are more fun," says Graves. "You can like the perfect ones, but the others that sat on the vine longer are just cooler."
Like most chefs, Graves gravitated toward Josh Olsen's ACRES at Warren Tech stand to check out the chef's cooler. Inside he found a trove of Vietnamese coriander, scarlet frill mustard greens and some other cool-sounding produce that he decided to skip for this run. He also found two kinds of onions and some good conversation.
At Toohey & Sons Organic, we purchased some honeynut squash, a hybrid butternut variety developed in New York at Cornell University. As I cradled a couple of these coveted squash, Western Daughters Butcher Shop co-owner Kate Kavanaugh bounded over and swiped the rest. Her excitement could not be contained, and we knew the honeynut would have to be part of Saturday's production. Lucky for us, Toohey had a couple of the green-tan vegetables behind the stand. The market hadn't been open for even an hour, and had had already sold out of the ingredient.
Back at Citizen Rail, which is located in the Hotel Born (1600 Wewatta Street) right next to the train station, Graves donned his apron and started out by thrusting one of the honeynuts under the burning embers of the restaurant's glorious wood-burning stove. Since he had never cooked that particular squash before, he decided to try out two methods of preparation: roasting and steaming. In the end, the ember-roasted squash won out since it concentrated the flesh and gave the squash a toasty nuance that paired wonderfully with the goat cheese and sauce that he created with charred green onions, broccoli rabe, and more of that cheese.
Because Citizen Rail is an American steakhouse, the chef knew he wanted to showcase the meat. Hence, he took a dry-aged, bone-in filet and threw it atop the coals in a cast-iron pan with some salt and freshly cracked pepper. To embellish the beautiful piece of beef, he created a relish of the fresh tomatoes, raw torpedo red onion, grated Inchelium red garlic, Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers and burnt anchovies (which taste a lot like bacon bits). The tart acidity of the mixture worked perfectly with the richness of meat for a dish Graves should definitely consider putting on the menu; that is, if heirloom tomatoes stayed in season all year, which they sadly don't.
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Finally, the unique herbs from the chef's cooler and the cucumbers were mixed together to top a fluffy plate of housemade ricotta — another winning dish that featured our farmers' market finds so well.
For more photos, see our complete slideshow of our visit to the Union Station Farmers' Market with Christian Graves. We'll have one more trip to the market next week before it closes down for the winter.